When Johnson Brothers was founded in 1883 by Frederick and Alfred Johnson, their goal for their Staffordshire pottery was to produce an earthenware called “White Granite,” which is marked on many early pieces as “SEMI PORCELAIN.” It was a great material for dinnerware because it looked like china but was as tough as ironstone. As it turned out, though, White Granite would not be the product for which Johnson Brothers would become best known.
By 1888, Frederick and Alfred’s elder brother, Henry, had joined the company, which produced its wares in a factory called the Charles Street Works in Stoke-on-Trent, as well as at two other facilities nearby. By the end of the century, the family’s fourth brother, Robert, joined his siblings from a satellite office in New York, the number of Johnson Brothers potteries would climb to five, and the ware for which the firm would become most famous, transferware, would be added to the line.
With Robert drumming up sales in America, Johnson Brothers products were soon selling well in the United States, where transferware and flow blue porcelain were very popular. The quality of the ware was unquestioned, but the company’s mid-range pricing made it easy for people to fill their cupboards with Johnson Brothers products...
In the early part of the century, the sons of the brothers joined the firm to lead sales efforts across Europe. After World War I, during the 1920s, a new colored clay called “Dawn” was introduced—it came in gray, rose, green, and gold. By the end of the decade, several Johnson grandsons had also joined the firm.
Flow blue patterns produced by Johnson Brothers in the early years of the 20th century included Albany, Astoria, Brooklyn, Claremont, Clarence, Clayton, Del Monte, Dresden, Eclipse, Florida, Fulton, Jewel, Montana, Neopolitan, Normandy, Oregon, Oxford, Pansey, Peach, Pekin, Persian, Princeton, Richmond, Royston, Stanley, St. Louis, Tokio, Tulip, Venice, and Vienna. Later, in the teens and early 1920s, Andora, Argyle, Coral, Georgia, Holland, Kenworth, Mongolia, Savoy, Sterling, and Turin were introduced.
Most Johnson Brothers marks from those years had a crown on them, some with squared-off corners. The pattern name was sometimes printed with quotes around it, but more often it went without.
Beyond flow blue, Johnson Brothers produced numerous transferware patterns for its plates, platters, and pitchers. The firm is most often associated with patterns featuring wild turkeys or the scenes in the Historic America series. Summer Chintz was another favorite, as were the Old Britain Castles from the 1920s, which were engraved by an artist identified only as Miss Fennel.
The 1930s saw the shuttering of the company’s original Charles Street Works and the replacement of its traditional coal-fired “bottle” kilns for all-electric tunnel versions. With a Depression on, it was a good time to modernize in the hopes of better days ahead.
After World War II, pieces in the Friendly Village pattern were widely sought, as were the company’s Christmas plates. By the 1950s, cups and saucers in the Carnival line featured bold solid colors and cups with tapering bases. The look was very Mid-century Modern, which was a long way from the company’s aesthetic roots. Finally, in 1968, unable to remain independent any longer, Johnson Brothers joined the Wedgwood Group.
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